WASHINGTON -- Rep. Marsha Blackburn is not a fan.
The Tennessee Republican says new regulations on energy efficiency will overly burden businesses in her district.
At the center of Blackburn's concerns is the inclusion of ceiling fans and ceiling fan light kits in a list of appliances for which the Department of Energy is seeking to implement energy efficiency standards, as part of the Obama administration's broader agenda to gain more from each kilowatt of electricity and reduce carbon emissions in the fight against climate change.
As it turns out, Blackburn's state is home to the nation's biggest ceiling fan supplier, the Hunter Fan Company. And so, along with Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), the congresswoman secured an amendment to the fiscal year 2014 energy-and-water appropriations bill that would prevent the Energy Department from enforcing its energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans and ceiling fan light kits. The amendment was approved by a voice vote, and the final bill passed the House two weeks ago on a mostly party-line vote of 227-198.
Now, ceiling fans are generating national attention, including a segment Monday on NPR, as the new light bulb. Blackburn herself drew the comparison in a House floor speech earlier this month.
"We've already seen the federal government stretch their regulatory tentacles into our homes and determine what kind of light bulbs we have to use," Blackburn said. "Now they’re coming after our ceiling fans. It is a sad state of affairs when even our ceiling fans aren't safe from this administration."
The House-passed appropriations bill, which slashes the renewable energy budget in half, faces a veto threat from the White House. It's also a non-starter in the Senate, where energy efficiency is a relatively bipartisan issue.
Some members of the ceiling fan industry are speaking out in favor of the regulations, including at least one company that says it supported standards in the first place.
Carey Smith, CEO of Kentucky-based Big Ass Fans, said the Bush administration adopted regulations that covered California, Maryland and New York in 2005 at the request of the ceiling fan industry. "The industry desired that there be one regulation rather than 50 different regulations. It's a heck of a lot easier to run a business if there's a single source," Smith told The Huffington Post.
His company manufactures the award-winning energy-efficient ceiling fan Haiku, albeit at a steep price. But Smith argued that consumers will benefit from the standards over time by paying lower electricity bills.
"From our perspective, it pays off for the consumer at the long run," he said. "Some people imagine that it's going to make fans more expensive, and anything's possible in the short run, but I don't think that that's going to be very likely."
Still, endorsements like Smith's are unlikely to sway House Republicans. Many have downplayed the threat of climate change and continue to cast Obama-era regulations as a sign of government overreach.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who once authored a proposed Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, said regulation has its place, but this administration is not basing its standards on "actual, verifiable science."
"That's part of our problem. We need to make our decisions not based on political wish lists, but we need to make it based upon real, true science," Bachmann told HuffPost. "The thing I didn't like about the light bulb issue, for example, is the federal government had actually outright banned a particular product, rather than allowing choice in the marketplace so people can choose which form of light bulb they wanted to have."
"Why should we be regulating ceiling fans? Wouldn't you buy the one that is efficient that does the job -- aren't consumers wise enough?" said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). "We have this idea of the uber-regulatory state and the uber-surveillance state ... that the federal government should regulate light bulbs and regulate the flow out of showers and the amount of water that can be in a flushed toilet."
UPDATE: Fanimation, a ceiling fan company based in Zionsville, Ind., reached out to The Huffington Post to highlight a letter Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) sent to the Energy Department in June. In the letter, Donnelly expressed his opposition to new regulations on the industry, expressing his concern that the new standards might result in job losses in the long run.
Alex Ostrovsky, an employee at Fanimation, points out that ceiling fans save energy to begin with as an alternative to air conditioning. While many in the industry support energy efficiency, not everyone is receptive to new regulations, he adds.
"We want to work with DoE to create incentives for ceiling fans usage, promote ceiling fan usage, and consider voluntary standards in the future," Ostrovsky wrote. "There exist non-regulatory alternatives that we want to explore. Technological advancements do not happen overnight."